Director-General, BBC In this opening Q&A he talks to Brunswick
Partner Tim Burt about the role of public service
broadcasting, and how the BBC is preparing
for the digital age.
What’s your response to those competitors who say the BBC has an artificial springboard – in terms of (public) funding – to prepare for the digital era?
We’re on a long-range path towards redefining what the BBC is and how it reaches its audiences here and around the world. Our proactive engagement and innovation around web and mobile and other digital technologies is one of the reasons why we have been resilient. There is also quite a bit of evidence that it’s been useful to the wider industry. The BBC’s commitment to Freeview has made the digital switchover possible. Our iPlayer service is beginning to help strengthen on-demand usage.
We have put a significant investment into new digital services, and the public has responded by using those services to their great satisfaction.
There isn’t really going to be an analogue BBC left in a few years time, it will all be a multi-media, multi-platform operation. We are going through the biggest re-tooling in our history. We are completely reinventing the infrastructure because you don’t need an analogue television or radio infrastructure in a multi-media digital age.
There is nevertheless a sense of the BBC under siege – is that right?
Well, who’s under siege? There is a kind of siege around traditional commercial media. A lot of the rest of traditional media feels under existential threat. Newspaper owners or commercial broadcasters see the BBC and its prominence as part of the problem, or at least feel that if we went away or were smaller that would be one less problem to deal with.
The siege metaphor really does work for the United States newspaper industry. United Kingdom newspapers in many cases have healthier models than many of their US equivalents. There are sieges going on, and it may appear as if we’re the besieged city. But I wonder whether what you’re seeing are secondary effects of what’s going on elsewhere in the media.
So is it the mirror effect: that whenever the commercial sector is weak the BBC looks artificially strong?
I think there is a magnifying effect. Nobody believes that the end of the economic cycle is going to bring good news for traditional media. Those players who use this moment to reinvent their business models and to develop new revenue streams to support content development and distribution may well thrive in a post-downturn moment. Those who can’t will have a downturn which doesn’t end.